Last year was a phenomenal one for South Korean culture. Global TV provider Netflix had a global hit with the popular K-series, Squid Game (and to a lesser extent, My Name), and, as 2022 kicks off, Korean shows are still rising. The country’s latest hit is Single’s Inferno, a Korean dating TV show that is topping Netflix’s most-watched global shows list and local microblogging platform Weibo’s hot search.
What is it:
Single’s Inferno puts 12 attractive singles — six women and six men — on a tropical island nicknamed ‘The Inferno” for nine days. Much like the British dating show Love Island, contestants must get to know each other and, ultimately, find their ideal partner during the show. The contestants must scramble to secure romantic dates, and paired couples are gifted a night at a luxurious resort called “Paradise.”
Additionally, four Korean celebrity panelists watch and comment on the show like at-home TV spectators, adding a sense of fun and informality to the show.
Yet unlike the Western dating series, Single’s Inferno and its contestants are more conservative, steering clear of any explicit intimacy.
Why it matters:
Although China does not have access to Netflix, netizens are still finding ways of watching the Korean series. In fact, show-related content on the local microblogging site, Weibo, has amassed nearly one billion views, with several related topics trending on the social platform.
Given its popularity in China, some contestants, like Choi Si-hun and Kim Hyeon-Joong, registered accounts on Weibo. Meanwhile, the show’s most popular and fashionable character, Song Ji-a, launched an account on the local lifestyle platform, Xiaohongshu. The Korean beauty and fashion influencer sported several luxury brands like Chanel, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Prada on screen, which attracted attention from local netizens. From her “cat” make-up to her glamourous outfits, diet spring roll recipes, and easy-to-do fitness tips, her style has become the object of imitation and is trending on Xiaohongshu.
She is most likely to become the next global star after Jung Ho-Yeon from “Squid Game.” Her Instagram followers have grown from 500 thousand followers to 2.5 million. Meanwhile, her recently launched Xiaohongshu account has quickly garnered nearly 2 million followers.
What to watch:
This new reality TV trend, where watchers observe “real” singles building romantic relationships, has ushered in an important shift of social influence in China. Now, an “ordinary” person can become a mega-influencer, thanks to the success of a show.
Monica Chen, a 23-year-old from Wenzhou, China, who loves watching Korean TV shows in her spare time, told Jing Daily that her favorite contestant was Song Ji-a. “Her personality, appearance, and fashion tastes are really attractive,” she said. “I have followed her on multiple social platforms.”
Chen Liang, the managing partner at éClair, explained to Jing Daily that not many normal people are as good-looking as celebrities. Therefore, this creates “a barrier for shoppers to see themselves in a certain product.” But this TV show’s rising popularity offers a gateway for brands to reach their end consumers through ordinary people, enabling the public to mirror themselves better with their fashion choices.
Why it works:
China’s addiction to dating shows is nothing new. Local dating TV shows like Heart Signal and Twinkle Love have been massively popular there, with the former releasing four seasons thus far.
As seen with its predecessors, the show doesn’t end with the final episode but moves on through contestants’ social media. Netizens are particularly intrigued to receive relationship updates from matched couples and even singles. Given that, brands should start casting their next new faces from there.
The Bottom line:
With young Chinese consumer interest shifting from drama to reality shows and celebrities to normal people, luxury brands would be wise to reflect this change. Ordinary faces will shoot to fame quickly on local screens, and brands must identify them and form collaborations promptly to benefit from the exposure. While hiring them to sponsor clothes is a beneficial way to collaborate, having normal people endorse a product line might not be the best option for luxury houses. It is harder to collect information about ordinary people as they are not publicly shared. And they offer little predictability compared to celebrities and could thrust unwanted controversies upon a brand.